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Breast vs. Bottle for Feeding Your Baby

Many new mothers struggle with the decision to breastfeed or bottle feed their new baby. Here's some guidance to help you choose what's right for you.

Breastfeeding Baby

Breast milk is the perfect food for baby, with numerous advantages over baby formula, especially in the first four months or so. Here's why:

  • It's always available.
  • It's free.
  • It contains active infection-fighting white blood cells and natural chemicals that give increased protection against infections in the first months, when these can be the most serious.
  • It can help prevent SIDS, sudden infant death syndrome, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
  • It contains the perfect proportion of nutrients that your baby needs, including protein, carbohydrates, fat, and calcium.
  • It is easily digestible.
  • It may protect against allergies and asthma in the future.
  • It may decrease a baby's risk of obesity in the future.
  • It may contain some fatty acids that promote brain development.
  • Breastfeeding can help new mothers lose weight more easily.

Additionally, there probably are other beneficial components of breast milk that we are not aware of and so are not added to formula.

Bottle Feeding Baby

With all these advantages of breast milk, should you feel guilty if you choose not to breastfeed? Absolutely not!

  • Infant formulas have gotten better and better at matching the ingredients and their proportions to that of human milk.
  • While breastfed babies may have relatively fewer infections, the vast majority of infants won't get a serious infection in the first months whether breast- or bottle fed.

A happy, unstressed mother is the best mother. If you feel that bottle feeding best fits your needs, then it's the best for meeting your baby's needs as well. 

Tips for Bottle Feeding Baby With Formula

  • There's no need to heat the formula for your baby. Drinking it at room temperature is fine.
  • Once a baby has sipped from formula, it should be discarded. You can, though, save unused formula that baby hasn't sipped from for the next feeding.

Tips for Choosing a Formula

  • Don't hesitate to pick a less expensive brand of formula if finances are a factor. Most formulas are pretty much the same. More expensive does not necessarily mean better.
  • Select an iron-fortified formula. There is a lot of evidence that iron deficiency in the first years adversely affects brain development. And side effects from iron (gas, constipation, discomfort) while much discussed, are actually very rare.
  • Pick whichever type of formula -- powder, concentrate, or ready-to-feed -- best suits your needs. There is no nutritional difference between them. You may want to keep in mind that powdered formula is the least expensive, though.
  • Choose cow's milk formula over soy to start with.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Roy Benaroch, MD on July 19, 2012

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